Project Management

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When to Use Agile Project Management: The Definitive Guide

Devan Ciccarelli

Devan Ciccarelli

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Are you wondering when to use agile project management, and whether this style is right for you and your team?

While we can’t decide for you, because every project and team is different, we can help you make a confident decision using the info packed in this guide.

We’ll be covering the ins and outs of agile project management to help you learn the:

  • Differences between traditional project management methods and agile
  • Pros and cons of agile project management
  • 7 best questions to determine if agile is right for you

After reading this guide, you will have a better understanding of whether agile is a good fit for your project. And if you decide to stick with your traditional style, you will learn when it’s the right time to switch over to the agile method.

So let’s go over the basics that you should understand about agile project management.

What is agile project management and how does it differ from traditional methods?

The easiest way to understand agile project management is by comparing it with traditional methods you’re probably already using.

One example is the waterfall method.

With this method, your team follows a sequential design process:

PM-sequential-waterfall-method

Project managers and team members complete each phase of the project - starting from the top and working their way down - before being allowed to move on to the next phase.

It’s a very logical, methodical process.

However, if something needs to be reworked, the process must start over from the beginning with this new change in mind.

Because of this caveat, project managers using this methodology must spend extra time in the planning stage to carefully minimize the number of errors or changes needed so that projects are completed by their due dates.

Sounds like a lot of pressure, right?

Agile project management, on the other hand, is the opposite.

Where the waterfall method is rigid, sequential, and linear, agile is incremental and interactive.

Project managers organize several short project milestones called sprints, which are usually done in two-week increments and include all parties involved in the project.

This allows for team check-ins, testing, feedback, and updates to be made before the project ends - without starting all over.

There’s also another reason for these short sprints: they’re a quick way to show stakeholders results.

Keep shareholders in-the-loop after each sprint, and they’ll be able to see all the hard work your team is doing and lend their input while there’s time for adjustments.

Instead of your team delivering your project weeks (or months) away from the start date, as with the waterfall method, shareholders can see the value building as the project unfolds.

Agile project management is also organized a bit differently than traditional waterfall plans.

Tasks are grouped and organized into a backlog, so only the tasks that will deliver the highest business value are tackled first and foremost.

Once those are done, the rest of the tasks can become a priority.

This style of planning is flexible and adjusts for changes and issues that may arise.

It also doesn’t require as much up-front planning as the waterfall method does; the goal is simply to get the ball rolling knowing that you can always make adjustments later on.

Agile project management is also much more collaborative - another important distinguisher here.

Instead of everyone working in their own silos, team members collaborate together and cohesively approach new designs, bugs, and improvements from all possible angles.

This creates and fosters a team that works well together and can innovate at a moment’s notice.

It also naturally helps your project evolve. Your final product using the agile method is one that’s already gone through rigorous testing before it even launches thanks to this constant feedback and re-working.

Agile project management may seem like a better situation, but before you decide to implement this method with your team, you should know there are a few downsides that come with it.

Pros and cons of agile project management

Since we weighed both sides of using agile project management in this guide, we’ll briefly share the important highlights you need to know today.

Let’s begin with the benefits of an agile approach first.

Pros to agile project management

#1: Nothing is set in stone.

Agile projects change all the time. This means nothing is permanent unless it’s been tested (and retested) and then approved.

If one aspect of your project isn’t working out, you can easily pivot instead of having to start over - or worse, scrapping your project altogether and wasting countless hours of time.

#2: You can stay up-to-date with new features.

Use the waterfall method, and it could be months before your product or service comes to fruition.

And by the time it does launch, your new-to-the-market features could already be out-of-date.

Agile combats this problem thanks to its constantly evolving nature. You can add new features, services, and benefits at any point throughout the entire process.

This keeps your project up-to-date and can help you get or stay ahead of your competition.

#3: You’ll have feedback much sooner.

The reason your team will be up-to-date on feature requests is because the feedback loop is much shorter with an agile style than with traditional project management methods.

Instead of waiting all those months to hear feedback from everyone on your team, you’ll have this every step of the way.

This also helps you create an end product your audience will actually want.

#4: Bugs are constantly being worked on.

Picture this: you’ve chosen the traditional waterfall method for your new website launch, and now you have less than 24 hours to test for bugs.

Think your team will find them all?

Unfortunately, even the most experienced teams won’t be able to.

This means your customers will be the ones testing your products out to find the flaws and who knows what else wrong.

Now imagine your team was able to test bugs throughout the build to see where holes and gaps needed to be filled. Did the light bulb just click on?

With agile, you’re able to test each component as each sprint is tackled instead of waiting until launch to do so.

By the time your first version launches, it will have been rigorously tested already.

#5: You’re more likely to meet your target launch date.

Another huge benefit to agile is that you’re far more likely to hit your deadline as long as your project is running smoothly.

With smaller sprints opposed to larger phase gaps, you’ll be able to manage your team and any hiccups that come up before they snowball and derail your project.

Now while these five perks may seem so awesome you want to become an agile-only project manager, take a look at the following issues that may arise with this style of management first.

Downsides to agile

#1: You may end up over budget.

Just because you have a better handle on what’s going on with your project (see benefit #5), doesn’t mean your project will truly stay on track or budget.

In fact, you may end up over budget or even late due to those constant changes, unforeseen updates, and habitual retesting.

So you’ll need to be extra diligent about time management for those issues to be kept at bay.

#2: Initial assessments can be difficult.

Another problem with agile is that it can be difficult to plan for.

With an unpredictable future, project managers need to carefully assess time, resources, and budget constraints, while also adding in a buffer to create a safety net for future (and inevitable) changes.

#3: In the end, the project may deviate from the initial plan.

The last downside to agile is that the end product may be very different from what you or your team initially sketched out, which can either be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective.

So how can you tell if agile is right for your team?

PM-agile-methodology

When to use agile project management

There are a few assessments you’ll need to make before you can determine which project management style is right for your team.

You may even find a combination of both agile and traditional methods works well too.

So to help you decide when to use agile project management, consider the following:

#1: Does senior management support agile processes?

For this to work, everyone on your team - including senior management - needs to be on board.

And they need to be comfortable with change and have a degree of flexibility.

On the flipside, if your team is used to doing things a certain way and just the thought of deviating sounds overwhelming, agile may not be the right fit.

#2: Is this something new or a process that’s been around for awhile?

Next, you want to consider the project itself.

Are you updating an existing process? Or are you creating something entirely new?

If your project falls under the first category (updating an existing process), a traditional project management method is probably better suited.

Agile works best for new projects, though that doesn’t necessarily mean all new projects should go straight to agile.

The next few questions will help you narrow down the specifics if you’re on the fence.

#3: How soon do you need it?

Agile works well with shorter turnaround times and tight deadlines.

These types of constraints help push your project along and can facilitate quicker changes as needed.

Another way to look at it is: do you need it sooner or better?

If your goal is to get the first version out right away, and you can sacrifice perfection in the name of innovation, go for an agile style.

But if quality is more important, take your time using a more traditional approach.

Next, you should evaluate your team to see if they can even support agile processes.

#4: How does your team react to change?

Just like how your senior management needs to be flexible, so does the rest of your team.

It’s crucial to honestly assess how your team reacts to change to see if agile is a good fit.

If you’re only dealing with a handful of employees who are change-averse, you can manage this accordingly.

But if your whole team panics at the thought of changing your existing procedures, it may not be worth rocking the boat. Of course, only you can decide that.

You also want to consider your team’s overall thinking style.

#5: Do you have a team of independent thinkers?

Does your team prefer thinking freely and working independently? Or do they need more guidance and teamwork to come up with a solution?

Processes in traditional methods work great for people who think in terms of linear, sequential solutions, whereas agile works better for teams that need to think outside the box and away from existing procedures to come up with a new, fresh take.

#6: What style are you already using?

You should also think in terms of your existing systems.

Would you or your team members describe them as rigid? Or does your team have the freedom to get their jobs done as they see fit?

This question alone can help you determine which style is a better match for your project and team.

If you’re already following strict processes, a move to agile could prove more time-consuming than you may anticipate.

#7: Are you working in an industry that quickly changes?

And finally, take a look at the industry you’re working in.

How fast are products launching or changing?

If your latest feature is already out of date, you don’t have time for a traditional project management style.

Go with agile and you can quickly adjust and stay one step ahead of your competition. (For help on agile project management, check out this page)

Readers working in industries with products that rarely change will benefit more from traditional, waterfall methods.

When to use agile project management: It’s time for you to decide

Those 7 questions should help you narrow down whether an agile style is right for your next project.

If you decide to use a combination of both agile and traditional project management methods, be sure to have processes in place for when each method should be used, so everyone on your team stays on the same page.

You can also help your team by getting up to speed yourself on the best management tactics to make your next project a success.

Have a look at our free webinar to learn more about our top agile tips.

And finally, to compare the two methodologies check out our general project management course, and our agile specific project management course.

Want to learn more?

Boost your skills with our (free) project management ebook!

Devan Ciccarelli

Devan Ciccarelli

Crafting fluff-free content is Devan’s jam. When she’s not writing for GoSkills, you’ll find her outside reading, soaking up the sun, or hiking her next adventure.

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